By Day, Richie Weeks Sorted Mail. At Night, He Was a Disco Mastermind.

When Richard (Richie) Weeks recalls his working life, the 78-year-old Bronx native sounds as if he’s describing two divergent selves.

For 30 years, he was a United States Postal Service employee, toiling mostly in the vast mail-sorting room beyond the imposing columns of what was New York City’s general post office in Midtown Manhattan.

At the same time, Weeks moonlighted as a dance-music producer, songwriter, arranger and artist, releasing albums on the seminal New York labels Salsoul and Prelude. He collaborated with some of the leading lights of the city’s disco and post-disco boogie scenes, including the studio wizard Patrick Adams, the chart-topping vocalist Jocelyn Brown and the soulful singer-songwriter Leroy Burgess.

Adams, who died in June at 72, once favorably compared Weeks’s prowess in the recording studio to that of the masterful Quincy Jones. “He is that brilliant,” Burgess agreed in a recent phone interview. “Richie is the real deal in terms of talent, humility and bona fide genuine genius. Not enough people know about him.”

During his heyday in the late 1970s and the early ’80s, Weeks was prolific. He would sometimes go to the recording studio in the evening, quitting at sunrise to head to the post office. “I was doing a lot, I’m not going to lie,” Weeks said with a chuckle over the phone from his home in Newark, N.J. “I was burning the candle at all ends.”

He took the advice of his father, Ricardo Weeks — co-writer of the doo-wop hit “I Wonder Why,” first recorded by Dion and the Belmonts — who counseled him about retaining copies of his recordings. “And I kept them in my possession,” Weeks said, “just in case.”

Weeks performing “Rock Your World” at the Paradise Garage in Manhattan in the early 1980s.Credit…via Richie Weeks and Still Music Chicago

That material — almost all of it unreleased — sat in storage for decades. Now, on Monday, the Chicago label Still Music will release “The Love Magician Archives,” a trove of previously unheard songs. It is the first of a planned multivolume set dedicated to Weeks’s unsung body of work.

The peak of Weeks’s music career came in 1981, when his group Weeks & Co.’s anthemic single “Rock Your World” became a Top 10 hit on Billboard’s U.S. dance chart. “People were out there all over the city, riding their bicycles while playing my song, riding the bus while playing my song,” Weeks recalled. “It was just all over the place.”

New York’s nightclubs and roller discos put “Rock Your World” on heavy rotation. “It has this aggressive chant, and is a very well-recorded track that sounds fantastic played loud on club stereo systems,” said the veteran D.J. Danny Krivit, who was then a fixture at the legendary club the Loft and the roller rink the Roxy. He still regularly drops the song into sets at his monthly 718 Sessions parties. “It really keeps people moving.”

Riding high off the song’s popularity, Weeks & Co. — a loose collective that included Jocelyn Brown a couple of years before her first No. 1 dance single — became an in-demand live act overnight, performing a few times a week at Studio 54, Paradise Garage and Roseland Ballroom. Onstage, Weeks would often don a funkadelic costume befitting his musical alter ego, the Love Magician: a gold lamé jumpsuit topped off with a shiny headband. Mere hours after finishing a concert, usually after little to no sleep, he would slip back into his Postal Service uniform and punch the clock.

He wanted to tour the world, but “I could not give up my pension, because I thought the music thing might be frivolous,” Weeks said, “that one day it could just stop.”

Then, one day, it did. In 1985, amid disco’s decline, Salsoul Records folded. Weeks worked on a handful of house singles, but nothing came close to the precipitous success of “Rock Your World.” After retiring from the service in 1993, he moved to New Jersey and joined a bricklayers union.

“Once Salsoul went out of business, I thought, That’s curtains — it’s over,” Weeks said. “I figured I’d had a good run, did my little shows. I never really looked back.”

Out of the blue in 2018, Weeks received a phone call that sent him back into his past. On the line was a French former radio D.J. and record collector. Henri Claude had been a longtime admirer of Weeks’s boogie group the Jammers, whose self-titled 1982 album from Salsoul produced the Top 20 dance single “And You Know That.”

Weeks mentioned that he happened to be sitting on a mountain of unreleased music. Claude connected him with a French friend and fellow D.J., Jerome Derradji, who had moved to Chicago in 2004 and founded the record label Still Music. Its Past Due imprint has for the past 15 years championed Black music overlooked by the mainstream — like Memphis gospel and Bay Area funk — with lush packaging that tells the stories of artists and labels left out of popular narratives.

“I was burning the candle at all ends,” Weeks said of his years working days and nights.Credit…Nate Palmer for The New York Times

Derradji’s father is Algerian, which made him an outsider among his peers in France. “My refuge was African American music, in part because I felt like we matched in terms of stories,” he said. “I could relate to those stories of racism and xenophobia, because I was living it.”

Over the phone, Derradji bowled Weeks over with his crate digger’s passion for discovery. When he was 10 years old, Derradji participated in an archaeological dig at a Gallo-Roman burial site, where scraping into the dirt with a small shovel, he came upon the skull of a man who had been buried vertically. “Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated by finding stuff,” Derradji said. “It’s about never taking anything for granted. There’s always more to a story.”

Weeks shared his own formative experiences with Derradji. As a boy, he first practiced singing harmony in an echoey storm drain that he found while fishing in the Bronx River. In his teens, he performed at the Apollo Theater with a group called the Fascinators, which was fronted by Timothy Lymon, whose older brother Frankie would go on to achieve doo-wop fame with the Teenagers. Later, Weeks explained, Patrick Adams heard a demo of his vocal group, Central Park West. The producer was soon regularly hiring him for sessions, and became his mentor, teaching Weeks how to use the studio as an instrument.

Throughout the winter and spring of 2019, Weeks packed his life’s work — a couple hundred cassette and reel-to-reel audiotapes — into four plastic shipping totes. When Derradji opened the first crate, something gave him a flutter of excitement: an Ampex tape cover carrying a vintage sticker on which someone had doodled in red pen “HOT,” beside the listing of a track titled “At the Disco.” Written in script at the top of the label was “Patrick’s Mix,” which Derradji correctly assumed was a reference to Adams.

The Patrick Adams mix of “At the Disco” that caught Jerome Derradji’s eye.Credit…via Richie Weeks and Still Music Chicago

When the engineer who was digitizing the songs threaded up the reel-to-reel tape of “At the Disco” and hit play, Derradji’s spine straightened. “This is pure New York, the real deal,” he said of the song, a celebration of the freedom and possibilities of the dance floor, which features a lead vocal by the singer Tanyayette Willoughby reminiscent of the disco queen Donna Summer. “We are actually digging into historical disco from New York — stuff that no one has ever heard. Even Richie hasn’t heard it since he made it.”

As part of their deal, Derradji agreed to help Weeks reclaim the rights to music he released on Salsoul. The process, formally referred to as termination of copyright transfers, requires the author to file notice with the U.S. Copyright Office within a specific window of time, along with an associated fee.

“At the time, I didn’t think that anybody could do that,” Weeks said. “I was shocked.” Derradji, he added, “seemed like an angel, like he was sent from the Lord or something.” The termination opened the door to Still Music reissuing albums by Weeks & Co. and the Jammers in 2019.

The first time Weeks talked to Derradji, he mentioned that, from as far back as 2015, he had not received royalties or accounting statements regarding his music. That’s when BMG Rights Management acquired Verse Music Group, which had controlled the Salsoul Records catalog since 2010. “Since BMG took over, they had been selling Richie’s music, licensing it, and they never sent him a dollar,” Derradji said. “It’s the perpetual exploitation of African Americans.”

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the surge of Black Lives Matter activism that followed during the summer of 2020, BMG publicly declared it would review historic record contracts, “mindful of the music industry’s record of shameful treatment of Black artists.” So what had happened with Weeks’s checks?

“If you are Richie Weeks, you think to yourself, ‘Who are these schmucks? They bought my music and they can’t even pay me,’” Steve Redmond, BMG’s senior vice president of global corporate communications, said in an interview. “But that wasn’t because we didn’t want to pay.” The problem, Redmond said, was that the company’s royalties department did not have Weeks’s current address and banking information.

Eventually, as he has done for other artists on his label, Derradji clawed back a modest sum for Weeks. The money wasn’t life-changing, Weeks said, but the fight was more a matter of principle than economics. He hopes “The Love Magician Archives” helps contextualize his role in the story of New York dance music, but these days he isn’t relying on his songs to do anything for him financially. He collects a pension that has made him the envy of his musician friends.

“Now,” Weeks said, “a lot of guys look at me and say, ‘I wish I did what you did.’”

Back to top button